Dinosaurs: Uberaba has a park recognized by Unesco – 03/27/2024 – Science

Dinosaurs: Uberaba has a park recognized by Unesco – 03/27/2024 – Science


The diversity of dinosaur fossils and other beasts from the remote past in Uberaba, just over 400 km from Belo Horizonte, has just been officially recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations agency dedicated to educational, scientific and cultural themes) with the creation of the Terra de Gigantes Geopark in the municipality of Minas Gerais.

The announcement, made in Paris this Wednesday (27), gives the region strategic importance in the areas of research, scientific dissemination and conservation of natural and historical heritage, like other geoparks already official in Brazil, such as Geopark Araripe, in the plateau of the same name in Ceará.

With UNESCO’s official declaration, the work of more than a decade by geologist Luiz Carlos Borges Ribeiro, a native of the city, comes to an end, at least for now. He heads the Llewellyn Ivor Price Paleontological Research Center, linked to UFTM (Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro), and was mainly responsible for formulating the geopark proposal approved by the international organization.

In conversation with the Sheet, Ribeiro said that the embryo of the idea was greatly reformulated in 2011, in a meeting he had with French geologist Guy Martini during a conference in Chile. The researcher from France is one of the creators of the geopark concept and a UNESCO evaluator.

“At that time, I thought it would be easy to format a geopark project focused only on the dinosaurs of Uberaba. But I sat down to talk to Martini, who spoke Spanish well, and he said to me: ‘Luiz, if you do work only with paleontology, if I’m the evaluator, I’ll give you a red card'”, recalls the Brazilian.

Martini then highlighted that the concept transcended geological and paleontological heritage, although these aspects were also important. “The geopark must be a unique territory on the planet, with other vocations that encompass a multidisciplinary vision of sustainability and appreciation of culture and history”, he summarizes.

Also encouraged by Carlos Schobbenhaus and Andreá Trevisol, both specialists from the Geological Survey of Brazil who bet on the potential of Uberaba at around the same time, he began to create a proposal in which Uberaba would no longer be just “Land of Dinosaurs” but would become transform into “Land of Giants”.

To be precise, it is a triad of giants that includes the history of zebu cattle in the region – a key area for the introduction of oxen of Indian origin in the country since the 19th century, a saga in which Ribeiro’s ancestors participated – and the legacy of the spiritualism of Chico Xavier, who lived for decades in the city and died there, aged 92, in 2002.

“Taking into account the crafts, gastronomy, material and immaterial culture of the city, we have a characteristic package that gives this unique identity to the territory”, explains the researcher.

Over the years, little by little, the idea gained support from Uberaba City Hall, UFTM, the powerful ABCZ (Brazilian Association of Zebu Breeders, the largest institution of its kind in the world and with a strong presence in the municipality) and other institutions.

In November 2022, Ribeiro and a group of colleagues finally submitted a dossier that formalized the candidacy of the “aspiring geopark”. The decision by UNESCO evaluators, therefore, was relatively quick, after two technical visits. Periodically, reassessments will be carried out to verify whether the geopark continues to meet the requirements for its inclusion in the international network.

Uberaba’s paleontological wealth comes from layers of rock from the Cretaceous period, the last of the Age of Dinosaurs. The base of these layers, the so-called Serra Geral formation, emerged when the Atlantic Ocean emerged, during the separation of South America and its sister continent, Africa. The process generated tremendous waves of volcanism, forming layers of basalt (a volcanic rock) up to 400 m thick.

Other layers appear on top of this basalt: the Uberaba formation, which basically corresponds to the current urban area of ​​the municipality, and the Serra da Galga formation, in the rural area. The ages range from 85 million years to 70 million years ago, rounding off, and everything indicates that the region was a semi-arid environment, with strong fluctuations in rainfall and drought between seasons and the presence of rivers.

So far, paleontologists have identified 15 different species of Cretaceous vertebrates in the region, including carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs, crocodylomorphs (extinct relatives of today’s alligators), turtles, fish and even a cousin of modern frogs and toads. Furthermore, the area is home to the largest dinosaur nest known in Brazil, with some eggs in an excellent state of preservation.

The biggest star of the cast, for now, is Uberabatitan ribeiroi, a sauropod (long-necked, quadrupedal herbivore) from the group of titanosaurs with an estimated size of 27 m, which makes it the largest Brazilian animal of all time. “We have at least two more skeletons found within the city that must be described as new species, another titanosaur and an abelisaurus [carnívoro de grande porte] fantastic”, says the researcher.

One of the objectives in seeking UNESCO approval is to strengthen Uberaba’s role as a hub for scientific, historical and cultural tourism, improving infrastructure and attractions for visitors in the rural area and the city. An important contribution from the municipality, however, is the guarantee that future discoveries will be properly protected.

The first step towards this is a city council ordinance that places paleontological rescue as a condition for works if fossils are found. “The second stage will be paleontological zoning”, says Ribeiro.

The idea is to geologically map the entire top of the Uberaba formation – which corresponds to the urban area – using different techniques, creating a detailed map of the places where fossiliferous rocks outcrop or are very close to the surface.

“These points will be marked in red: it will be mandatory to hire paleontological rescue. If the depth of the formation is intermediate, we mark it as orange, indicating the need for further analysis. And, where it is deeper, the map turns green” , explains the geologist.

“We don’t want to stop any work, but we want it to respect the fossiliferous potential. In fact, it is completely feasible to do this without disturbing the projects and the progress of the works. We have already shown that it is possible to save almost all the material without affecting the schedule.”


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